Tuesday, June 4, 2013

5 Rules My Stepkids Won't Like During Summer...(but still need anyway.)

No more teachers, no more books - you know the drill. Your adorable stepkids are officially on summer break. While splitting the summer between your house and Mama Ex's, they're likely expecting three months of lazy days, warm sunshine and constant entertainment.

So let's have a reality check.

As a step mom who is is not used to the week on week of schedule, I'm not used to having the kids around as often as they will be in the coming months. (Not that I'm not excited to have them more, because I totally and completely am.) Translation: summer is an adjustment. We have my two stepkids for a week at a time. It's great, it's wonderful, it's grand. 

But here's the deal: I work from home. As a sales rep, my home office is literally my HOME office. When I do that "heads down, lost in thought" work, it's in my home.

Unfortunately, my step kids see me at home and think, "HEY! Ruby is here all day! She can take us to the park, make us lunch, play charades, make balloon animals and generally entertain us until Daddy gets home."

Um, no.

I grew up in a home where Mom and Dad both worked and were gone all day. Consequently during the summers, my brother, sister and I were left to our own devices. Inventing imaginative ways to pass the summer days was a necessary side effect of summer, and surprise surprise, I survived. But now that I have my stepkids home with me for a week at a time, I'm noticing that having a parent (figure) around, is much different than having no adult in the house. So, we're laying some ground rules that the kids are none too thrilled about. You might consider these in your own household, whether you stay home or not.

1. Sleeping in is a privilege, not a right

One of the major perks of summertime living for a kid is that they generally don't have to get up early. I'm all for this, but there are limits. For example, as I mentioned earlier, I work from home. My day begins at 7:30 whether the girls' does or not. That means I am going to live my day as though the kids aren't here. Making myself breakfast, getting Hubs out the door, feeding the animals, etc. If my dogs decides to bark at the Fed Ex guy at 8:09 am, I'm not going to shush her just because "the kids are sleeping". If there's one thing I learned in college, it's that sleeping in takes effort, because the rest of the world has things to do. Summer does not equal Ruby tiptoeing around the house so the kids can get a few extra winks.

2. No Phone Zones

As I sit and reflect on my childhood summers, I recall very little texting, You Tubing, Snapchatting and Facebooking. (Granted, they weren't invented yet, but still.) My stepkids are out of school, but that doesn't mean they get to become robots. We have several "No Phone Zone's" throughout the day. Meal times are a huge No Phone Zone time. My stepkids eat at the same time as each other. It's called a conversation, and they need to learn how to have one.

3. Boob Tube Boundaries

I used to say "No TV While I'm Gone" for the summer, but the rule is hard to enforce because I can't stop the kids from picking up the remote. So I flipped the rule on its head. The only time the kids CAN watch TV is if I'm out on an appointment for work. Since I do a large majority of my work from home, this means their TV time is minimal. Oh, and Netflix? I disable it if I'm not home. The last thing I need is the kids checking out "Cabin in the Woods" when I'm not here. The best part is, since the kids are so thrilled to be watching TV when I'm gone, I don't have to worry about them getting into trouble.

4. Imagination is worth its weight in gold

If they can't watch TV and they can't be on their phones, the possibilities for easy entertainment dwindles quickly, so I start to get a lot of "I'm bored" and "When is Daddy coming home?" My response is generally, "invent something to do." As a kid, some of the best days of my summer were spent acting out a soap opera with my Barbies, or building a fort in the living room with my brother. I know my stepkids are creative if they just make the effort to try. I don't even care if they make a mess, as long as they're doing something fun. Creative messes can be cleaned up; gray mush for a brain is harder to clean up. If the kids tell me they just can't think of anything creative to do, I put a book in their hands.

5. Take a Look, it's in a Book

I am a book worm, through and through. I don't need flowers for Valentine's Day; a gift card to Barnes and Noble is quite sufficient. So I'm always surprised when my stepkids roll their eyes when I mention heading to the library at the beginning of summer. It's like I'm telling them we're heading to the guillotine. In past years, it hasn't been worth the battle and I've let it slide. No more.

This year each child will read for no less than 30 minutes per day. As an extra incentive, I've offered a special prize to the child that finishes a book series first. Harry Potter, Pretty Little Liars, The Babysitter's Club...I don't care. Just finish a chapter book series and you get something cool.

(I've yet to figure out what that something cool is yet, but they don't have to know that.)
Oh, and each child will explain to me what is going on in their book at the end of each week. If they haven't finished the book in two weeks, they're clearly not really reading.

6. Earn your keep

Chores are a huge part of summer. If my bonus babes get to spend day after day laying around the house, they can certainly fold a few loads of laundry and *gasp*, unload the dishwasher. This house is by no means as spotless as 'Downtown Abbey' and I don't expect it to be, but a 13 and 11 year old can help it at least look respectable. After all, their Dad and I are out earning money so they can continue to have fun vacations, nice clothes and electronics. They can help out. Complain all they want, but help out nonetheless.

The biggest issue I face with summer is that Mama Ex takes a completely different view of how the kids should experience these next few months. To her, it should be constant fun all the time. She doesn't believe in chores, or reading or using imagination and it's a crying shame. But I've learned that I have to ignore what she does at her home and focus on ours. In order for me to keep my sanity this summer as I share my home with the kids, I have to lay out ground rules and establish routine, or we're all going to be miserable...and hot. Not a good combo.

What rules do you put in place to keep your summer sane? 


  1. In our house, there is a 2 movie-2 episode limit on television watching in the summer. If they want more time they can earn it by putting in 40 solid minutes of reading. I give them an episode of cartoons (20 minute long cartoons on YouTube) for each 40-minute reading session and next thing you know, they're an hour closer to Dad getting home from work! :)

    1. That's a great idea, Stephanie. I'm stealing that one!!

    2. Stephanie, thanks for sharing! That idea is genius. My youngest SD has an iPhone, and she constantly wants to play on it. It's gotten to the point where she doesn't even know how or want to visit with her grandmother anymore. We have recently begun restricting her time limits on the device. (which of course, she is extremely unhappy about). I buy the SKs books all the time. I love the idea of having them earn their technology time!

  2. Ruby, our schedule is always one week on, one week off so the adjustment as far as that goes is minimal now. But our house has rules similar to yours and my stepson's other house does not. So that can be an adjustment. I found that leaving a list of what is to be accomplished for the day every morning is helpful. That way when he does get up and I'm in my office working, he knows what chores need to be done during the day and there is usually no argument or complaining then. I like the idea Stephanie has of reading to earn additional screen time. xoxo

    1. I have started leaving lists as well, Lisa Michele! They know what they're expected to do, and they know how long they have to get it done.

      Now if I can just work on them not knocking on my door for every little thing...